Love on the Dole – a very Concise Commercial Adaptation from 1939

In the Lancashire Evening Post on the 24th February 1939 (p.13) appeared what might be called the shortest ever adaptation of Love on the Dole. It consisted of the following text:

LOVE on the DOLE.
No matter where or how you fell in love You simply must buy the ENGAGEMENT or WEDDING RING from a reliable firm – namely Prestons.
PRESTONS of PRESTON. 87 Fishergate.

In its own way this is an adaptation from the novel or play versions into the genre of advert, but, unlike a free-standing adaptation, the short text relies wholly for its effect on readers knowing the original story to some degree, or at least being familiar with its topic. The advert makes the interesting assumption that the words ‘LOVE on the DOLE’ are more likely to attract (and stop) the skimming eye of the newspaper reader than, say, ‘FINE ENGAGEMENT and WEDDING RINGS’ or even ‘THINKING OF PROPOSING?’.


In several ways the advert is reading Love on the Dole against the grain in that both novel and play are about the complete lack of sufficient material means for the usual practices of love, marriage and parenthood in Hanky Park. In fact, there is no mention whatsoever of engagement rings in the two texts: they are clearly an unaffordable luxury. It is true though that the novel has three references to wedding rings. However, all three references are related to women visiting Price and Jones’ Pawn Shop. The first from the boy-clerk Harry Hardcastle’s point of view unknowingly links wedding rings to the cycle of poverty caused by the lack of adequate pay and access to family planning:

New faces from time to time; young girls, pregnant, wedding rings on their fingers, sometimes squalling babies in their arms; they were rather shy at first; but they became less and less shy, more and more married as weeks went by (p. 31).

The wedding rings signify not enduring romance but progressive poverty: to be less shy and ‘more’ married signifies the necessity of being a regular customer at the pawn shop. Indeed, the next two references are both to the loan value of wedding rings. First there is Mrs Nattle who ‘helps’ (‘oblidges’) her neighbours by visiting the pawnshop on their behalf for a small commission:

Mrs Nattle …had fetched in a bassinette [pram] nine suits, a dozen frocks, any number of boots and shoes, two wedding rings, three watches and chains, not to mention a couple of bare-legged barefoot children whose mottled legs shivered with the cold, while their scraggy arms ached with the bundles they carried (p. 33).

The people of Hanky Park do not truly own the clothes they stand up in and as for hardware like watches, chains and rings, the best use of these is to raise money for rent, coal and food. Again, in this passage, wedding rings are associated with children who cannot properly be cared for. In the next reference, Mrs Hardcastle, Harry’s mother, comes to call on Mrs Nattle to collect the money on her pawned wedding ring. Her husband places great value on staying ‘respectable’ by not borrowing money (‘he don’t know this um a brass ‘un Ahm wearin’, p. 163), but he has been laid off at the pit and Mrs Hardcastle has to buy food and make the payments on Harry’s suit. Though Harry is sixteen and has little sympathy with the married women who come to the pawn shop, the truth is that his mother is part of the same economy and still paying year after year for the consequences of marriage on a hopelessly low family income.


The advert privileges the best-seller status of Love on the Dole above its actual content, producing a number of ironies in the process. Still, the advert testifies to just how popular and well-known Greenwood’s novel and play were across the thirties. In its defence there is a further irony: by February 1939 the British rearmament programme begun in 1936 had greatly reduced the number of workers on the dole and generated a degree of relative optimism with which the advert is in unreflective harmony.